Mr. Chatterbox

By staff May 1, 2007

Well, it’s a new day over here at Sarasota Magazine. The staff, me included, is now expected to work twice as hard—and for no increase in pay. We’ve had all sorts of new “tasks” dumped in our laps. Just me alone—I now have to photograph all the fashion layouts, relieve the receptionist on her lunch hour, sweep the floors before I go home (usually at 8 p.m.!), read all the copy and decide where to put the commas, and periods, and, if all that wasn’t enough, I now have to write two completely new blogs for our Web site.

Have you seen our Web site? It’s pretty good. I was a little intimidated by it at first, but now I’ve learned “the lay of the land” and I just navigate around it like crazy. In fact, I check it several times a day, looking for errors I can tell my fellow employees they made and have to correct immediately. Needless to say, the other people at work are now looking at me in a whole new way.

Is it my imagination, or is the best thing on the Web site my two new blogs? Just think—two new things written by me. Who could resist that? And they’re available only online. The first is my “Real Estate Junkie” blog, where I go to open houses every Sunday and then write about what I see. Believe me, this can get very intense, because what I mostly see are panicky realtors and desperate home owners. But you know me—I try and look beyond the human dimension and get to the real story, i.e., how cheap everything is at the moment and what steals you can get from another’s person distress and ruin. You can check it out at

And then there’s my signature Mr. Chatterbox blog. I can’t believe how many hardcore fans don’t know about it yet. What it really means to the world is that I’ve finally gone “bi” and can be enjoyed twice (or once, depending on my mood) a week, imparting all the news and gossip for which I am famous. Poor Marjorie North is beside herself. She’s finally getting a run for her money and she is not a happy camper. Every time she sees me she makes the most awful faces.

Anyway, how to launch my new Mr. Chatterbox Online blog was a matter of great concern to me. I really needed some major event, with heavy hitters and a real “gravitas” I could sink my teeth into. That’s when I got the idea of giving somebody an award. I decided to call it the Mr. Chatterbox Lifetime Humanitarian Award, and I further decided that the award itself, the trophy, so to speak, would be a bottle of champagne, because who’s going to turn down a free bottle of champagne?

I started scouting around for just the right “awardee,” some famous person who would get a lot of publicity receiving the award, and since there certainly isn’t anybody in Sarasota like this, I hit upon the brilliant idea that I would give it to Eartha Kitt. She was going to be in town performing for the Jazz Festival and all she had to do was stand there for 20 seconds and get her picture taken with me and a bottle of Andre. What star would turn that down?

What happened next is a little murky. I’m trying not to hold the Jazz Club responsible (even though I do see the fine hand of Jo Morello all over this episode) but, from what I hear, Ms. Kitt found out about the whole thing and not only said no, she canceled her entire performance! Honestly. Some people just let their egos run rampant over common sense and dignity.

So I had to scurry for a replacement. That’s when I came up with Victor DeRenzi. True, he’s no Eartha Kitt, but it turns out that he was already getting an award and the timing was perfect. There would be a whole bunch of people at a dinner honoring him and I figured I could sort of “piggyback” my award on theirs.

Victor’s award was for being artistic director of the Sarasota Opera for 25 years. What kind of award is that? He went for 25 years without getting fired. Big deal. Then I realized, this is Sarasota. He may be the first person in an arts organization this has ever happened to. He deserves an award.

So, after hinting and hinting to the opera people that I wanted a free ticket, I finally broke down and bought one and got all dressed up and headed over to Michael’s On East. It was a lovely crowd, perhaps a tad older than most, and the outpouring of love toward Victor was something to see. During cocktails we all exchanged touching stories of “the Maestro’s” many eccentricities, like the time he yelled at an assistant for taking a sip of bottled water or the time he made that little girl cry. This lovefest atmosphere continued into the dinner itself, and at one point his wife, Stephanie, began to reflect on their 30-year marriage and what it meant to her and she burst into tears and had to be helped from the stage and taken into the ladies’ room so she could lie down on a couch.

I personally was having a merry old time. You know how it is at these events—it all depends on who you’re sitting with. Well, I got a great table (although I was not invited to the special patron’s pre-party—a mistake I’m sure the opera will never make again). On one side were the Werys—he’s the high-end realtor from Tanganyika, she’s the Southern belle manqué who’s writing her first novel—and on the other side were Colleen O’Daniel and Eleanor Williams. Colleen has a problem. She can’t stop buying houses, and now she has too many. But guess what? She’s going to advertise one of them on my new real estate blog—yes, I do accept advertising—and we both agreed that would make all the difference in the world. I’m giving her an incredible deal. If you’re interested in advertising your property in a way that real estate has never been advertised before, in bringing it before the eyes of people who have no intention of buying real estate and don’t have any money anyway, then e-mail me here at the magazine.

At any rate, the evening progressed from one high point to another. Jennie Famiglio duked it out with Ulla Searing and Jacqueline Morton for the title of best dressed, Ken Benson from the Metropolitan Opera was a witty emcee, Victor and Marcella Hazan added some celebrity glamour, Jonathan Carle and Reyna Carguill sang, and then finally they presented Victor with the Mr. Chatterbox Lifetime Humanitarian Award. It turned out to be a bust, not the bottle of champagne I was planning. Beautifully sculpted by Myrna Rijke Labberton, it will sit in the lobby of the Sarasota Opera, where it will forever be a constant reminder of that exciting evening when Mr. Chatterbox changed local history and began his long-overdue blog. As Victor said when he shook my hand, “Che gelida manina.”

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